Is Obesity a National Security Problem? Is Obesity a National Security Problem?
Is Obesity a National Security Problem?
To defend our way of life abroad we may need to reconsider how much junk food it involves at home.
It's not every day that former generals and admirals speak out about children's health and education. But last Thursday was one of those days. According to Mission: Readiness, a nonprofit, bipartisan organization led by retired senior military leaders, 75 percent of 17 to 24 year olds cannot enlist in the military because they fail to graduate high school, have a criminal record, or are physically unfit.
One trend called out in the report deserves special attention: America's obesity epidemic not only limits the military's recruiting base, but is a growing drain on the Department of Defense budget and hurts the readiness of our forces. The numbers are alarming. Since 1998, the rate at which active-duty servicemembers received a medical diagnosis of being overweight or obese increased more than 2.5-fold.
We all know Americans are gaining weight. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than one-third of adults in the United States are obese, double the rate in 1980; around two-thirds are at least overweight. (An adult with a body mass index between 25 and 29.9 is overweight; 30 or higher is obese. Someone 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighing 169 lbs, for example, is considered overweight. If that same person weighed more than 203 lbs, he would be obese.)
There's no mystery behind this phenomenon. Less than 10 percent of high school students consume the recommended amount of fruits and vegetables daily. Less than one-third meet the recommended levels of physical activity. Children and adolescents average several hours of TV, DVD, and movie-watching daily. Sugar-sweetened drinks are everywhere, including schools.
These lifestyles, however, are reflected in our military, and the costs are considerable. One-quarter of DoD beneficiaries (which includes servicemembers and their families, and retirees) are obese, little better than in the general U.S. population, while 40 percent are overweight. As in the civilian sector, the military health system is spending a lot of money treating conditions that obesity promotes, like heart disease and diabetes. The DoD estimates its healthcare costs attributable to obesity at $2 billion per year, more than for alcohol- and tobacco-related conditions combined. The cost is sure to grow under an expanded DoD entitlement program for retirees (the Congressional Budget Office projects a near-doubling of DoD healthcare costs, from $46 to $85 billion, during the next 30 years), and could constrain other critical DoD medical treatment and prevention programs.
Then, of course, there is the impact on individual military members. The Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center reports that rates of joint and back disorders-among the leading causes of lost duty time-in overweight or obese active duty servicemembers are three times higher than the overall active duty rate. Nearly one-quarter of servicemembers diagnosed as obese or overweight last year also were diagnosed with a joint disorder during the previous year.
Obesity may even play a role in the mental consequences of war, a link we're only just beginning to understand. This year, a large DoD epidemiological study that includes many personnel who deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan reported that servicemembers who don't see themselves as healthy-which we know correlates with being overweight or obese-were at significantly higher risk for post-traumatic stress disorder.
The link between America's obesity epidemic and national security is becoming clear to public health experts like Dr. Richard Carmona, who is especially qualified to recognize the connection. He enlisted in the Army, served in Special Forces, and was a combat-decorated Vietnam veteran before beginning his medical career and going on to serve as President George W. Bush's Surgeon General. Dr. Carmona said recently that "Obesity is not just a health issue" but "affects our national and global security."
The DoD is launching new initiatives against obesity. The military health system recently completed a pilot project using an internet-based program to help beneficiaries lose weight. Commissaries now have shelf signs with dietary tips based on U.S. Government dietary guidelines. More important, probably, is to help children establish healthy lifestyle habits. Investing in early education on food and health is a good bargain for America whether or not these children choose military service later.
And that's something that healthy lifestyle campaigners and supporters a strong military-not always a natural constituency-can agree on.
Why Hollywood Ought to Get Trashier The success of the studio behind the Sharknado franchise points to an elusive ingredient in movies today—fun.
Migration by Numbers The Most Diverse Cities in the World From Tokyo's modest 1.7% of foreign-born residents, to Dubai's whopping 87%, in this infographic we take a look at the dynamic landscape of city demographics around the world.
Should Society Fund Mindfulness? Putting taxpayer money toward meditation programs? It’s not as crazy as you might think.
Syrian Refugee Women Learn Self-Defense with Predictably Badass Results Two Arab-American women hope to empower Syrian women fleeing their home country’s conflict with physical training and emotional healing.
Achilles’ Password: Online Security’s Susceptible Straggler These new technologies promise to make your vulnerable passwords obsolete.
Guess Which Wealthy Country Can't Guarantee Access to a Basic Human Need? This week, Detroit's neediest had their water turned off. Here's what you can do about it.
If More Couples Smoked Weed, Would There Be Less Domestic Violence? Spouses who smoke weed are less likely to inflict physical, sexual, or psychological harm on their significant other.
Better Living Through Science: Women in STEM A look at pioneering women in fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
How You Type Says a Ton About Your Emotional State This new computer program can see right through your poker face.
Let’s Do More. A Call-to Action by Gap CMO Seth Farbman Data shows that 24% of the 21 million Americans making minimum wage are working in retail, and 64% of those are women.
Meet the Self-Proclaimed President of Colombia’s Hottest Music Trend Champeta started as an outsider Afro-Colombian folk movement. Now it's taking over the country.
Cryptocurrency Regains its Reputation in Paradise Can a renowned tourist hub in Bali become a bitcoin wonderland?